2020 -- A Year in Review


Seriously, what even happened in 2020.

After finishing an 8-month internship and curbing a mild video game addiction at the end of 2019, I was ready to go back to school and tackle some big boy problems. That winter semester, I only took 4 courses -- as apposed to the usual 5 -- I thought it would help with stress and give me some breathing room. Overall, school has been interesting this year, I know there's still a lot to learn and despite some courses being delivered rather poorly, I still had some fun. For example, while I may have taken a course on operating systems this year, I still barely know anything about operating systems.

One course that stood out was an elective titled, "Social Issues", under the philosophy department. I can't say I had too much fun in the course, but I did meet some interesting people. I took the writing pretty seriously, not because of the subject matter, but because I wanted to see how well I could polish something up if given enough time. In the past year, I had done a lot of writing, but typically I don't do any heavy edits for the bookclub; it's more about getting the ideas out there (otherwise I probably wouldn't post anything at all). So I wanted to give myself a challenge to really flex my editing skills. The results were pretty good, I wrote decent papers and got decent grades. I even went to office hours, something I hadn't done since first year. It would be reasonable to assume that I ended up with a pretty good mark and I probably would have, if not for covid.

Yes. Obviously, 2020 is the year of covid-19, and in March the University of Toronto shut its doors and all courses moved online. I didn't go outside for like 3 weeks. I remember Dad pointing out to me that there were no socks in my laundry because I hadn't put any on for so long. The university closing sucked. A lot. I had a lot of great things going on in terms of relationships, physical health, and academics. All of that got thrown out the window. From what I can remember things were going well. In the gym every other day, even on weekends. Being more regular doing rock climbing and spending time with friends. Reading daily. Branching out. Trying hard and learning new things in class. I should probably mourn for my loss more than I have so far.

For most of the year, I've held the opinion that I've been quite lucky during the pandemic. I didn't lose a job, I was already planning on taking the summer semester off. All my classes were taught online with minimal complications. I haven't had to pay rent or struggle to afford necessities. Although I'm separated from friends, I'm able to live with family who I get along with. Life is good. But damn it, life could be great.

Rewind back to April, I do my minimal studying for exams and let the semester slowly fade away. At this point I'm feeling pretty out of it and unsure how the summer break will go. Fast forward to May, I move back home to live with family and take a much needed break. 2020 has been the first year since 2015 where I haven't worked a job at some point of the year. During this time I struggled to find motivation to do any of things I'd dreamt about doing while having free time.

Eventually, I got myself into a routine. My quest was to try and learn algorithms by attempting programming challenge questions. This has been something I've wanted to get better at for a while and still feel like I have much room for improvement. For roughly two months, I would spend 3-5 hours per day attempting problems, coming up with solutions, and scouring the internet for any clues I could find. In the beginning, my goal was to finish 2 questions per day. Each problem solved is worth some amount of points on the website I solved them on. Quickly my goal became to reach 1000 points. As I approached this number, I was doing more and more per day, some times 5 questions in a day if they were all relatively easy.

The whole point of taking this approach to learning is that I make the rules and go at my own pace. So I feel no remorse in looking up answers as I go; researching and analyzing is part of the process. And learning is learning. It's a double-edged sword because as I get excited about things I can make more progress than expected, but when I eventually become disinterested progress grinds to a halt.

My goal turned into slight obsession when I unintentionally created some urgency to reach it. During this time, I let myself become more recluse from a lot of friends and some family. I made a deal with myself that the phone calls I should be making and catching up with people had to wait until I hit the 1000 points I so desparately wanted. I basically needed to hit the goal or I would feel eternally bad for ghosting everyone. To most people this might seem like a weird thing to do, but it's really just how I operate. I feel comfortable giving my complete attention to only a couple things at a time. It took 2 months and ~240 solved problems. Despite not having much to show for it, undertaking this challenge was probably the most beneficial thing I did this year in terms of personal development, finishing Infinite Jest being a close second.

In the middle of July, I bought myself a trampoline and started using it pretty much everyday. I learned how to do a front flip. There's something great about having some good tunes playing, jumping up and down, and looking out over the horizon as the sun sets. I did not spend as much time on painting and art as I thought I was going to. I definitely did not do enough reading. I simply felt I lacked the energy for these things.

Quickly summer came to a close and online school started up. For this past semester, I chose to take 6 courses as apposed to the 4 I took back at the start of the year. Most of my peers would call this having a death wish. Which is a fair thing to say, really, because 6 courses require proper time management and sacrifices often need to be made.

For the past year or so, I've gone back and forth on how to plan out the end of my degree. At one point I really wanted to switch to a double major so I could study more philosophy and pass on CS courses I didn't much care for. Then I realized that I didn't much care for most of the philosophy courses. I thought I might take an extra year to finish my degree, so I took 4 courses at the start of the year to ease the stress a bit. Then I decided that since I would be doing school from home and had all the time in the world with minimal other obligations, I would make things as realistically hard as possible to ensure I wouldn't die from boredom while stuck at home. I still ended up feeling bored at times. Now I'm set to finish my degree by the end of 2021. I'm hoping the next school year will be filled with enjoyable challenges and that I learn some interesting things.

I'm thankful to have good friends that happen to take the same courses as me, and that school isn't something I have to do alone. Otherwise, I'm sure my experience would be much worse. A highlight for me, is drinking a cold, craft cider during an 8pm exam on a Saturday while on webcam for a zoom call. Last year, I would have never thought it possible.

I'm also thankful to be able to spend this much time with family this year. I know that finishing university and entering the "real" world will include moving away, so we won't be able to have as much time with each other in the future. Although that's not necessarily a bad thing. I find that my relationships with family tend to improve when we're slightly apart because we don't step on each other's toes as often and can better appreciate time together.

I hope next year will be a good year.